This isn’t just an Instagram aesthetic. It’s actually really good advice for us. If you’re unfamiliar with self-care, it is the simple act of caring for ourselves. We deserve it, not because it makes us better for others or for our lecturers or for our flatmates, but because it makes us healthier for ourselves. […]
Category Archives: Self-image
by Lillian Csernica on September 5, 2017
I’ve been reading a lot lately about how writers need to get out of their comfort zones. Apparently better writing is achieved once we leave our comfort zones and venture out into the wild terrain of ideas that scare the daylights out of us.
I’m not talking about horror per se. There are subjects that we all find distressing. The kind of material that people these days label with trigger warnings. Facts and stories and ideas which will hit us where we live, push on old bruises, maybe bring fresh pain to old scars. Such subjects are intensely painful and could be trauma triggers.
A trauma trigger is an experience that causes someone to recall a previous traumatic memory, although the trigger itself need not be frightening or traumatic and can be indirectly or superficially reminiscent of an earlier traumatic incident.
(Relevant tangent: If you’re interested in the debate about trigger warnings, I recommend reading The Trigger Warning Myth.)
While I can appreciate the need to test one’s boundaries and stretch one’s literary muscles, I do have two problems with all of these articles urging writers to get out of their comfort zones.
- The people giving this advice have no idea what’s outside my comfort zone. I might have some very good reasons for staying in it.
- There’s a crucial piece of information missing. Maybe it’s just the debate team in me, but I don’t see anybody defining the term “comfort zone.” (That’s why I keep linking to the definition every single time I use that phrase.) To me the proper starting point is figuring out precisely where our comfort zones begin and end. Once that’s mapped out, we know where to find terra incognita. We can point to the spot that says “Here there be dragons!”
Time for painful honesty. For years now people have told me I should write about my experiences with my older son Michael. Bed rest in the hospital. The terror of the day he had to be delivered via emergency C-section. Every day and night of the three and a half months he remained in the hospital, coming close to dying time and time again.
Why don’t I write about that? Simple. I’ve been too busy living it. For most of Michael’s twenty-one years on this planet, my husband and I have considered it a good week if no medical emergency forced us to call 911.
Same with John. Sure, I could write about the day he got out the front door while I was changing Michael’s diaper. I had to dash out after him before he made it to the busy street. I tore my right calf muscle doing so. Then I still had to get up and run after him. I wound up in the ER that night, and came home on crutches. That added a whole new layer of difficulty to being primary caregiver for two special needs children.
What’s outside my comfort zone?
Miscarriage. Babies dying. Whether or not to turn off the life support.
Wondering if I’ll ever know the joys of being a grandmother.
Who will look after my boys once I’m dead.
And a few other matters that I’m not ready to talk about to anybody, even myself.
Yes, I agree that “growing our comfort zones” is a worthwhile goal. I also think people who dish out such advice should be mindful of the dangers of doing so. These are hard times. Telling people to go rummaging around in the darker corners of their psyches for really juicy writing material is not a smart or a responsible thing to do.
For me, getting my own car again was a big step outside my comfort zone. I didn’t drive for years because of a Gordian knot of anxieties surrounding the subject of driving. Now I have a car. Now I drive all the time. Oh look, here I am writing about it!
For once I don’t mean to sound sarcastic. You decide when and if you want to step outside of your comfort zone. You decide just how far, and how often. It’s good to tell the stories that only you can tell. It’s more important to respect your own pain and your own right to privacy. You’ll know when the time is right.
For some excellent thoughts on why there’s nothing wrong with staying in your comfort zone, go see what Darius Foroux has to say.
One of the most helpful mental health techniques I’ve learned is the importance of knowing how to get out of my own way. This article explains that technique in excellent detail.
‘You make problem, you have problem.’ – Jon Kabat-Zinn When it comes to problems, we all have them. Many problems, however, are self-imposed. Startling thought? It’s meant to be. If you want to narrow the list of problems you have, start with a firm decision to stop making problems in the first place. Already, the objections start, beginning with the problems that others create that have a direct effect on you. Surely, you didn’t create them. So, how can you stop those problems? Nice try, but that’s a weasel-out excuse that won’t work. While you don’t have control over the problems others create, you very much have control over your response, action or inaction. In other words, it’s what you do that counts, not what the problem is that you face. It’s the same with problems that you manufacture. Indeed, it’s all in how you regard the situation. If you think it’s a problem, it’s going to be a problem. If you view it in a more positive light, the problem is no longer a problem, but an
by Lillian Csernica on May 3, 2017
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. I live with Major Depressive Disorder. I take medication and I’m in cognitive behavioral therapy. There are a lot of blogs and articles and opinions out there right now about mental health, what it is and what it isn’t. I came across this particular article and was struck by how much sense it makes.
Please read this article. People don’t believe me when they find out I have chronic, clinical depression. They see me writing and making sure my sons have what they need and they think I’m hanging in there despite all the stress. That’s because I’ve learned how to pass for cheerful in our relentlessly perky social culture. The fewer assumptions people make about those of us who suffer with any kind of mental illness, the sooner we’ll reach that point of compassion and support these articles might easily sabotage.
Thank you for listening. Remember, you are not alone.
by Lillian Csernica on February 2, 2017
Answer: Fourteen pounds in fourteen days. Yes, that’s right. I’ve lost on average one pound every day since I began the program.
This is not a testimonial or an infomercial. This is a celebration of overcoming a problem I’ve had since I was ten years old.
I like eating vegetables. I like cooking. I can’t remember how I got into the rut of relying mostly on fast food or microwave dinners. When the kids were little I had to eat fast when I had a free moment, sure. The boys are legal adults now. It’s high time I abandoned the old instant gratification pattern for long term health and well-being.
All this without a specific exercise program. I’m still wearing the knee brace. There’s a communication problem between my doctor and the physical therapy people. I am in the middle, trying to get that sorted out. Until I know what I can and can’t do while my knee recuperates, I have to be careful.
Meanwhile, let me just say that I love Quest protein bars. So many flavors to choose from!
by Lillian Csernica on January 24, 2017
One: The rain has stopped. The sun is out! The creek that runs along our property is back to a reasonable level. The wild stormy weekend made the creek rise several feet, biting off chunks of our back yard. All the trees that fell, fell away from our house.
This is a huge relief.
Two: Today I saw my cardiologist. Thanks to my brief period of radioactivity during my previous appointment, my doctor is now satisfied that no plaque is lurking in my veins waiting to cause me a serious problem. This means no angiogram! Another serious relief.
Three: I’ve been having problems with my CPAP equipment. I stopped by SleepQuest today for some troubleshooting. Turns out the 90 days have passed and my insurance covers a fresh set of equipment. The tech on duty (a delightful lady) set me up with everything I needed.
Four: By this time hunger pangs set in. On my weight loss program I have to make sure I don’t let myself get too hungry. If my blood sugar drops, I tend to stand around staring at things and I can’t make decisions quickly. Given that my drive home meant going over Hwy 17, lunch became a serious priority. Trader Joe’s to the rescue! I spotted one and discovered a number of tasty items on my You Are Allowed To Eat Very Little Of This list.
Five: I made it home before the after school rush, thank God. Between the clean up after the latest storm, the road crews filling in all the potholes, and everybody getting out into the sunshine, driving was hectic enough without all the grade school parents picking up their kids and all the teenagers with cars spilling out of the high school.
Here I sit, preparing to edit a fresh short story. The hardest part of this weight loss program is giving up chocolate during the first stage. I sincerely believe chocolate fuels the imagination. Oh well. I seem to be surviving without my usual Mocha Coconut Frappuccino from Starbucks. If I can write without caffeine, I shall be a new woman!
by Lillian Csernica on January 18, 2017
Tonight I consumed my last pint of Ben & Jerry’s Karamel Sutra.
Tomorrow morning I begin a medically supervised accelerated weight loss program.
When I was ten years old, my parents took me to see a dietician. I was already 5’6″, and already 152 lbs. Not good. Now I’m forty years older and 100 lbs heavier. Time to stop kidding myself about the health problems that are right around the corner if I don’t do something about my weight problem RIGHT NOW.
This is not a New Year’s Resolution. This is me deciding to act like a grown-up and stop indulging myself while blaming the depression, the difficulty of my life, some writing setback, or whatever other chaos afflicts me at that moment.
I have a plan. I have professionals backing me. I have a guidebook and a journal and a food scale and the necessary supplements. I’m going to do this.
There are so many stories waiting to be written.
There are so many birthdays and Christmases and personal triumphs ahead for both Michael and John.
There are so many places in the world I have yet to see, just in Japan alone!
There may be setbacks. That’s OK. I know how to deal with setbacks. You just take a deep breath, focus on the next indicated action, and start moving forward again.
I can do this. I will do this. For me, for the kids, for my writing.
by Lillian Csernica on December 15, 2016
1) Thou shalt slow down. We’re all in a hurry. It’s that time of year. If we can “proceed in a calm, orderly fashion” the way we’re directed to do during emergencies, then maybe we can avoid the kind of emergency that will ruin everybody’s day. Yes, I mean traffic. I also mean elevators, escalators, check out lines, and any other point where the crowd tends to hit a bottle neck.
2)Thou shalt hurry up. This means have your ticket ready when you exit the parking garage. This means get off your cell phone and stop blocking the aisle. This means know what you want to order by the time you get to the head of the fast food line.
3)Thou shalt have mercy on servers, salespeople, and other customer service representatives unless and until they demonstrate deliberate rudeness. Once that happens, demand to see the supervisor or manager. Take the time to make sure those rude people get busted for their bad behavior. You deserve polite service.
4)Thou shalt give no gifts that require labor or maintenance unless by prior explicit agreement. This means any living creature in the pet category, any plant growing in a container, anything from any DIY category on Pinterest, and especially any of those “In A Jar” projects.
5) Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s parking space. This goes double for the handicapped slots. Just because you can’t see why a person has a handicapped placard or special license plate, that doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t have a disability that qualifies.
6) Thou shalt contain thy children. This includes both physical movement and volume control.
7)Thou shalt prepare, taste, and evaluate any new recipes before inflicting them on innocent and unsuspecting family and/or guests. Have you ever wondered why the women’s magazines bring out all those bizarre recipes for the holiday season? If those food items are so delightful, why aren’t people making them anymore?
8) Thou shalt keep thy receipts. Big stores like Toys R Us and Macy’s are pretty good about “gift receipts,” making returns possible without the person knowing exactly how much you spent on the gift.
9) Thou shalt not put up so many Christmas lights, inflatable snowmen, animatronic reindeer, etc. etc. that you create a traffic hazard by either distracting drivers, blinding them, or both.
10)Thou shalt cover thy nose or mouth in the event of a sneeze or cough. Come on, people. Do the elbow thing. Do NOT use your hands, because you will then spread whatever germs didn’t already escape into the air.
11)Thou shalt send actual written thank you notes. I know, this must sound unbearably old-fashioned in the Digital Age, but it’s the right thing to do. My sons send written thank you notes, and everybody knows Michael and John both need some help to do that. People are surprised and very pleased. Word gets all the way back to my mother, who sat me down and made me write thank you notes as soon as I had learned how to write.
12)Thou shalt give thyself permission to stop trying to make everybody happy all at once, especially when that means losing sight of making thyself happy too. Figure out what really makes you happy, be it baking cookies or driving around looking at Christmas lights or going to church or playing silly board games with your friends. Do those things. Give yourself the gift of “Peace on earth, goodwill toward Man.”
This weekend Withteeth and I went to a writing conference. I haven’t talked about my writing in a while, but it is still something I’m pursuing. However, conferences are incredibly difficult for me. As such, I wanted to write a bit about the struggles with anxiety and how to deal with it both for people […]
I’d like to express my gratitude to hessianwithteeth for giving us all these insights into such complex and demanding experiences.
It’s so wonderful that people with visible disabilities are gaining recognition and inclusiveness. Life can be even more difficult for people with conditions that can’t be seen from the outside. My own Major Depressive Disorder has been gaining the upper hand these past two weeks, making this issue all the more immediate and important to me.
Remember. You are not alone!
by Lillian Csernica on July 24, 2016
I really don’t like it when people sneak up on me. I have enough anxiety issues as it is. My son John once crept up behind me, poked me in the ribs, and said, “Boo!” He suddenly found himself staring at the floor with his arm up behind his back. I didn’t do it with much force, but I did it, leaving both of us surprised. I turned him loose and apologized, but I made it clear to John not only is it not polite to sneak up on people, it can be very dangerous.
This also explains why I almost never braid my hair. Every time I’ve ever done so, somebody will come up behind me and yank on my braid like it’s some sort of bell pull. My instincts say I’ve snagged my hair on something, which tends to kick off my fight or flight response due to that time way back when I was four years old and my long hair got caught in a floor fan. Nothing got cut off, but it took a long time to untangle and it hurt a LOT. What is the deal with this braid-pulling? It’s up there with people being compelled to pat a pregnant woman’s stomach. I don’t care if you “just really had to do it.” Hands off!
On a recent trip to the local Dollar Tree, I was standing there trying to remember one of the items I’d come to buy. Suddenly, right behind me, a man cleared his throat quite loudly. I shot up into the air as if I’d been stabbed with a hat pin. I jerked around and almost tripped over him. What on earth was he doing that close to me? He made some attempt at courtesy that still didn’t explain why he was standing well within my personal space. I got away from him, and nothing else came of it, so I didn’t feel a need to tell the manager. I remember his face. If I see him again, he will not have another opportunity to sneak up on me.
Tonight I was out buying groceries for the week. Put everything on the moving belt, pushed my cart forward a half step at a time as the line progressed. Out of nowhere there’s a guy leaning over my left shoulder. Turns out he was a cashier trying to decide which check stand to close next. So what? He could have taken three steps around me and get a better look at the situation! At the very least, a polite “Excuse me” was called for. What is wrong with some people that they just treat others like objects to be ignored or pushed aside?
I’m jumpy to begin with. I will freely admit that.
However, I’ve been given reason to develop a high-strung temperament due to sudden shocks of a physical and auditory nature. That tends to make one prone to being jumpy.
This is a bit of a psychological Moebius strip. Where does one part end and the other begin?
These are tough times. Caution and courtesy should be our watch words. There are a lot of people suffering from PTSD because there’s a hell of a lot of trauma happening, both visible and invisible.
How do your experiences compare? Do you see this kind of disregard for personal space? Let me hear what’s happening to you.